Intestinal bacteria linked to higher risk of cardiovascular problems

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One of the fascinating things about science is that new things are always turning up.

I was amazed recently to learn that the biggest endocrine organ in the body is not the pituitary or the adrenal glands but our guts. Actually it is the bacteria in our intestines. Just two or three weeks ago this information appeared in Medscape, a website for the medical profession.

It turns out the bacteria in our intestines can take the chemical choline, which is plentiful in egg yolks and meat, and produce another chemical called trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO). And that is not good.

High levels of TMAO are associated with a significantly increased risks of heart attack, stroke and death.

Research in the area was spurred by knowledge over the past few years that there was something about diets high in meat that significantly exceeded the risk for cardiovascular disease that came just from the cholesterol and saturated fat in meat. It now appears quite clear it is the TMAO produced by the gut microbes.

In the past three or four years studies have been done not only in mice but also in humans that show this to be true. Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic, one of the top leaders for cardiovascular disease worldwide, were heavily involved in outlining the hazards associated with TMAO.

The higher the levels of that chemical in the body, the greater the likelihood of serious cardiovascular disease.

In a group of 4,000 patients, some without significant coronary heart disease, a high TMAO level increased the risk for stroke, heart attack and death by 200 percent.

Dr. Joseph Loscalzo of Harvard Medical School agreed with these findings in an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine. He pointed out that with this new knowledge there also comes hope the dismal picture can be changed by lowering the intake of choline rich foods, or altering the types of bacteria in the diet, or even producing a medication that could suppress the formation of TMAO.

In our time, due to studies funded by the U.S. government, Dr. Gary Fraser in his book “Diet, Life Expectancy, and Chronic Disease” reported that 19.5 percent of U.S. men survive to age 85, whereas 48.6 percent of vegetarian Seventh-day Adventist men make it to 85.

Current studies, also funded by the U.S. government, being done at Loma Linda University involving more than 90,000 Seventh-day Adventists will increase the knowledge of what happens with vegans.

Dr. Don Casebolt of College Place is a retired physician who is passionate about preventive medicine. He spent four years as a medical officer in the U.S. Navy, the last 2 1/2 years as a flight surgeon. He also worked on the Navajo Reservation for 22 years.

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